One of three lagoons just below Aspen Village that treats some 34,000 gallons a day of wastewater from the 149 homes in the neighborhood 10 miles below Aspen. The 50-year-old lagoon system is losing its effectiveness and the wastewater sent into the Roaring Fork River could be made twice as clean a with a new $35,000 pump back system to increase dilution of the wastewater.Smith/Aspen Journalism Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The 50-year-old wastewater treatment system that serves 450 people at Aspen Village needs to be upgraded, but the deed-restricted community 10 miles below Aspen doesn’t have the money to do it, according to Gary Beach, the manger of the Aspen Village Metropolitan District.

Beach made a pitch to the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board last week for a $25,000 grant to help fund a temporary fix to improve the effectiveness of the system.

But Beach was turned down by river board members who said they were concerned about setting a funding precedent for other metro districts to follow.

The current wastewater system at Aspen Village includes three lagoons where about 34,100 gallons a day of wastewater from 149 small homes flows in for treatment before being released into the Roaring Fork River.

The Aspen Village system is currently within the water quality guidelines set by the state, but the lagoons are losing their cleaning power and the system is “pushing up against the limits for discharge of ammonia nitrogen in the effluent,” according to a memo from Beach to the river board.

High levels of ammonia can harm aquatic life.

“As time goes on, any lagoon system gets less and less efficient,” Beach told the river board. “It is just a matter of the build up of your nutrients.”

The current discharge permit for the lagoon system expires on May 31. While state standards for sewage treatment systems have gotten more stringent recently, Beach said the district’s current set-up would likely qualify for a new permit without any upgrade, but it could be close to established limits.

Beach said ultimately Aspen Village needs a new plant at a cost of $475,000, but the deed-restricted neighborhood’s metro district already has a high tax burden and “simply can’t afford even the most reasonable cost of a package plant at this time.”

The district has been saving about $50,000 a year toward a plant for the last seven years, but is still at least several years away from having enough money for it.

And issuing bonds is not an option given the relatively low values of some of the trailers and mobile homes in Aspen Village, Beach said.

An interim solution is a $35,000 pumpback system.

It would pump wastewater from the third lagoon in the system back up to the first lagoon — giving the wastewater a second lap through the three lagoons before being released to the river.

“Quite simply, this is a practical application of the adage, ‘the solution to pollution is dilution,’” Beach wrote in a memo to the river board.

The pumpback system would reduce by about half the level of “Biochemical Oxygen Demand” (BOD) and the “ammonium nitrogen” discharge into the Fork.

BOD (the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by aerobic microorganisms in a body of water to break down organic material, such as pollution) is a common gauge of wastewater quality.

“We can deliver cleaner water to the Roaring Fork River,” Beach told the river board at the Feb. 21 meeting.

Lisa Tasker, a member of the healthy rivers board, said it was up to local homeowners to cover the cost of necessary wastewater systems.

Other members of the board agreed.

Bill Jochems, the chair of the board, said he was concerned about setting a precedent with a grant to Aspen Village, especially given the number of other treatment plants in the watershed that also likely need to be improved.

“My thoughts are that we shouldn’t get into this,” Jochems said.

Beach thanked the board for its time and said the Aspen Village Metro District was “also pursing other avenues” for funding.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on the coverage of land and water in Pitkin County.